Introduction to the Messel Pit

Jack Wilkin (UK) The Messel Pit represents a Konservat-Lagersttätte dating to  the Eocene Epoch 47 million years ago. The site is in Hessen State in Germany, close to the city of Darmstadt. It is a disused oil shale quarry that was scheduled to become a landfill in the mid-1990s. Thankfully, due to public and scientific outcry, the site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Ever since, there have been thousands of amazing and revolutionary discoveries. This article seeks to introduce this remarkable site and a glimpse into a lost world. Fig. 1. Amphiperca multiformis (HLMD-Me 8958). During the Eocene, global temperatures were much higher than they are today. The area that is now Messel was a volcanic lake surrounded by subtropical rainforests. The upper portions of the lake supported a wide diversity of organisms. The bottom waters where anoxic. This prevented bioturbation and inhibited bacterial decay leading to exceptional preservation. The lake would have periodically released toxic gases, in much the same way as Lake Nyos in northwest Cameroon, did in 1987 to lethal effect. The pit is comprised of oil shales. The rocks have a high-water content and any fossils recovered must be kept moist or else they will dry out and the specimen will be lost forever. They must also be stabilised with resin, in a process called the “transfer technique”. The Messel Pit is unusual in that both plant microfossils and macrofossils are founds found in abundance. The types of plants found at … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.
%d bloggers like this: